Graham Foust's second book is a small volume full of small poems, thin things that rarely stretch more than a handful of lines down the page, and though they don't advertise themselves as such, they build into a kind of serial whole. If that wholeness is an illusion it is at least a happy illusion, as it rescues some of the slighter poems in the collection and places them in the circling movement that is the book, and the movement here is everything.
When the poems work, they work like finely spun filaments. Foust's diction is careful and precise, even where elusive. As in "The Hammer on the Table":
Here everything depends on the careful placement of each "not", a tactic employed throughout the book: the piling up of double and sometimes triple negatives that prove, upon inspection, absolutely clear and clarifying; even if we don't immediately know what to make of this peculiar über-hammer, we can be certain it is in dialogue with any number of German thinkers, some alluded to more overtly than others. Really, as one poem's title suggests, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" is a genuine concern. Throughout, we have poems that dream themselves through film, dramatize their own failing, and question their making at the most basic level. "If I were not a metaphor, I would be/ ungrammatical," speaks an always tenuous "I," and the communicative gap between the poet, the speaker, and the reader is such a given that it is elsewhere figured as "Miscarriage," a poem that concludes with the assertion:
to see the light
but not to see
of a god:
the hammer I dream of,
or rather over
with the hammer I dream of.
Curiously, the poems that have the most impact tend to be the ones that let this anxiety go, or at least stifle it for brief moments. In a more straightforward piece, "Retail," we fall into a rare bit of genuine narrative with our post-coital speaker standing in the check-out line, staring at the random detritus of a culture and finding "just the sudden nothing there/ to think of." The beauty of the poem is that in its careful intelligence, and in the context of the book, we can actually be convinced that rather than simply being a cheap shot at consumer culture, it is also a kind of Rilkean (read: Heideggerean) Nothingness, which the speaker is being thrown up against. It's a daring and presumptuous movement for a short poem but, more often than not, when Foust stretches himself beyond the small handful of words that comprise most of these poems, he extends himself just enough to really risk something.
And though some of the poems here are slighter than other, they almost always avoid preciousness. If anything, the shorter poems tend more toward a kind of ultra-orphic bathos, such as in "Expensive Meal":
In my listening
I am impatient with this sort of crypticism, as well as the way even the music's promise seems unfulfilled, but these, too, are few and far between. If anything, it is the over-lay of this kind of technique upon the more traditional movements that helps keep the poems sharp and honest. Foust's voice, finally, is a voice you trust, which is quite an accomplishment in itself. It is a voice that is always questioning, a voice that speaks out of its own kind of faith: that the world as translated is, at best, not nothing.
There is always
a fugitive meat.
View three poems from Leave the Room to Itself here
Graham Foust was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and raised in Eau
Claire, Wisconsin. With degrees from Beloit College, George Mason
University, and the University at Buffalo, he teaches at Drake
University in Des Moines, Iowa. He and his wife live in Iowa City.